Let Us Welcome Our Administrators

Sears, Roebuck & Co. employee.
Sears, Roebuck & Co. employee. Circa 1980.

Prior to becoming an educator, I spent about thirteen years in retail at Sears Roebuck & Company. I started in 1987 as a part-timer, eventually worked my way through college; then full-time as a supervisor and on to management.

At the time that I began my employment, the workforce at Sears was roughly 75% full-time; 25% part-time. The pay for full-timers was exceptional, and the benefits were as good as any company.

During the first five years of my employment, the company underwent significant changes. First, as people retired, they began to replace full-time positions with part-time positions. Eventually, they restructured the organizational chart and bought out most of the “old school” full-timers and replaced them with part-timers. By that time, the makeup of the workforce had flipped to 25% full-time; 75% part-time. Anything under 30 hours/week was considered part-time, and you couldn’t qualify for benefits unless your 16 week average was more than 30 hours/week. You can probably guess what the focus was in scheduling. They kept the hours under thirty. Eventually, they redefined the role of the manager. No longer a manager with a clear difference in status from workers, they became “hands-on” managers expected to work in excess of 60 hours/week for their salaries, and essentially eliminated the need for one part-timer because they were on the floor working with the part-timers.

Wal-Mart employee. Then, AND now.

Why did Sears do this? The answer is very simple. The family owned (not publicly traded) company, Wal-Mart, entered the retail scene. Their business model included volume selling at discount prices and cost control via a part-time expendable workforce. Sears had no choice. They had to adapt their way of doing business in order to survive and realize a profit for their shareholders. Eventually, Wal-Mart went public for trading. I remember some of my coworkers purchasing stock in Wal-Mart, and one particular year, the stock split three times in a twelve month period.

Not long after, the other major retailers had to follow suit. Some survived; others, didn’t. Montgomery Ward lasted less than five years. KMart eventually filed bankruptcy and later emerged under the umbrella of a parent company that owns both KMart and Sears. Twenty-five years later, what is the result? Wal-Mart still dominates the retail market. Target, and a number of specialty retailers, emerged with the same business model; still Sears and Kmart struggle to satisfy their shareholders. Overall, customer satisfaction with retail service is at an all time low. Yes, the employees who were committed to their jobs and enjoyed good benefits were essentially extinguished. The quality of merchandise available to purchase in retail stores has plummeted,  but more importantly, the people they serve have been failed by a disconnect in personal service, by people who have no commitment to their job,  in favor of profit for shareholders.

I wanted to illustrate this series of events for a couple of reasons. Public education is currently undergoing a similar assault. The irony is…one of the main assailants is the Walton family who, of course, built the Wal-Mart empire. Charter schools are the Wal-Mart of education. We are currently at the stage where the bulk of the workforce…teachers…are slowly being driven out to eventually be replaced by an unqualified, less costly workforce with no commitment to the career, or the customer base. However, we are entering the phase where the management, or administration, becomes a target as well with the same goal…an unqualified, less costly workforce with no commitment to the career, or the customer base, expendable and replaceable.

I have been in the fight against education reform for about four years. First, I was a parent who didn’t like what was happening to his children. I thought I was alone in the fight. After almost two years, I learned that I wasn’t alone, and I became a part of a movement that not only represents parents, but also teachers. When my fight expanded from a focus on my children to defending my profession, and now, saving public education, it became clear that the reaction and treatment that teachers received for speaking out varied greatly. For the most part, administration doesn’t speak out. They quietly allow people like me to speak out. In some cases, administration is punitive to people like me. All along, I have said, “We will not win this fight until the administrators join us, and all teachers receive the support they need and feel safe to speak out.” Well, the time is now. Administrators have officially been included in the assault.

Earlier this week, Michael Deshotels published a blog on his site, Louisiana Educator, that included a guest commentary from Herb Bassett.  Bassett is a master mathematician/statistician who frequently deconstructs data that is disseminated by LDOE. That is exactly what he did with the information that follows regarding the principal evaluations. His findings are alarming. You can read his entire summary on Deshotel’s Blog; however, I sent the summary to several of my principal friends, and a few of them responded saying they didn’t get it. In communicating with Basset about his findings, he acknowledges that he was unaware that this was actually implemented, last year; however, it was presented as recommendations for goal setting in the principal’s toolkit. Because school report cards were just received, principals are just now finalizing their evaluations from last year, so the realization of what is happening has yet to occur.  I am going to summarize, in a very small nutshell, the most important thing that principals need to take from this. Because these were only recommendations, in theory, principal supervisors could have rejected the recommendation; however, teachers know that districts generally adhere to recommendations as though they are directives. I suspect that while these are currently “recommendations,” they will soon become “requirements.”

  1. Principals are required to have a minimum of two SLTs. The recommendation is that one be based on SPS growth; the other, a component that contributes to SPS.
  2. LDOE provided incorrect data in its recommended goal setting because it used the wrong calculations. For example, “A” rated schools have higher goals than low performing schools. This is wrong because the closer the SPS gets to 150, the less room there is for a significant growth. It diminishes.
  3. The recommendation is that schools that received the same rating be grouped together, then ranked from lowest to highest SPS growth with the principals of the lowest 25% receiving an ineffective rating on that component of the evaluation. In others word, if there are 20 “A” rated schools, the principals of the lowest 5 would receive “ineffective” on that component of the evaluation.
  4. In addition, any principal whose SPS score goes down, even if the overall rating remains the same, would receive and “ineffective” rating on that component of the evaluation.

Now, there is much more to this plan that is being put forth, but this is, by far, the easiest part to understand. Principals…it is time for you all to step up and speak out. We have reached a critical point. Public education is counting on you.

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